Birthing Ball Basics for Pregnancy and Labour
A birthing ball is an exercise ball that has been co-opted for labour and childbirth as one of several techniques to ease labour discomforts and pain. The balls are made with a robust, usually PVC latex-free material (if you have a sensitivity to latex however, you should double check before buying) and are manufactured to resist bursting and deflate slowly rather than with a bang!
The balls are available in different sizes to accommodate differently sized people, for example; A woman who is 5 foot 8 inches or shorter should look for a ball that is 65 cm in height once inflated. A woman who is 5 foot 9 inches or taller should look for a ball that is 75 cm in height once inflated.
Your pregnancy, labour, and delivery friend
Using a birthing ball in the later stages of pregnancy helps your pelvis be better supported and symmetrical, and the positioning of your body allows for the pelvis to open somewhat - similar to squatting but with much less strain on your legs and hips! Sitting on the ball, rather than a chair, during late pregnancy encourages baby to settle in an anterior position and in some cases has been known to rotate a baby facing the wrong way. Using a birthing ball before and during labour has been known to help speed progression, help with pain management, decrease back pain and anxiety.
Basics of the ball
Sit on the ball so that your feet are flat on floor and hip-width apart. The ball should be inflated enough to be firm and big enough so that your hips are level with or higher than your knees. If you are unfamiliar with using a birth ball, try sitting on it for the first few times on carpet rather than a smooth floor, as this will increase stability until you are ready to stabilize the ball on your own. Go shoe and sock free to help prevent slipping. If possible, enlist a friend to help provide support as you try gently rotating your hips or rocking back and forth on the ball—in the absence of a friend, a chair sat facing away from you will provide a sturdy handhold.
Popular positions for use with a birth ball
- Sitting astride the ball and gently rotating your hips or rocking back and forth.
- Leaning over and resting your upper body and arms on the ball from a kneeling position.
- Hugging the ball while standing (the ball is on a higher surface) or kneeling (the ball is on the floor with you)
Each of these positions allow for plenty of room for your partner to support you, massage your back or hips and even for pushing - not the seated positions but the kneeling ones.
Your post-delivery helper
Once labour is done, don’t toss that ball yet! It still has plenty of uses, not the least of which are for exercising and getting back into shape.
Birthing balls also help babies with gassy tummies! When baby is having a hard time finding relief, try very carefully laying them face down on the ball - don’t let go of them and very gently, sway or rock them back and forth to help relieve some of the pressure.
*Originally published March 11, 2016